This lesson looks at one of the keys to writing a good introduction to an essay – identifying the task in the question. As you work through the lesson you will find 4 separate sample introductions illustrating different skills.
All of the introductions are slightly different. In my view, there is no one way to write an introduction and the best advice is to practise writing different types of introduction so that you can write different types of essays.
Why you need to identify the task in your introduction
There are 2 major reasons why you need to identify the task in your introduction. If you don’t do this, you are very likely to make one of these mistakes:
- not answer the question (very bad for Task Response)
- write an introduction that is not coherent with the rest of the essay ( bad for essay coherence)
The first step: understanding what the task is
The task is the bit of the question that tells you how to write the essay. There are different types of tasks in IELTS essays. I find the best approach is not to try and divide them into Argument or Discussion questions. That can be confusing. Rather it is often simpler just to read the question, decide what it is asking you to do, then do it without worrying too much what type of essay you are writing. To do this of course, you need to understand the task words.
Typical task words
Here is a selection of some of the most common tasks. The key is to see that they are in fact rather simple. The people who make the exams are not trying to trap you. All you need to do is focus on the exact working of the question. The most important words are often the little words – words like “and” “both” and “more”
Discuss both points of view and give your own opinion. = The task is to discuss both points of view and give your own opinion
What are the disadvantages and advantages of this? = The task is to discuss both the advantages and disadvantages
Are there more advantages or disadvantages to this? = The task is to make a decision about whether there are more advantages or disadvantages.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this. = The task is to say how much you agree or disagree
What can governments do to solve this problem? = The task is to make a suggestion of your own
Skill 1 – make sure you understand the task
This comes first. Many, many essays go wrong because the task is misunderstood. The big danger here is that you get a question that looks very similar to a question you have already answered or an essay that you think you must answer as a model Argument or Discussion essay. In both cases you are likely to try and answer a different question to the one in front of you. A major crime.
Several languages die every year and English is becoming used more and more as a world language. Many people feel this is a positive trend and that a world with fewer languages promotes harmony and understanding between people. Analyze both sides of this argument and provide your opinion.
There are both negative and positives aspects to the growth of English as a world language. On one level it helps promote co-operation and understanding, but I believe that this is outweighed by the negative impact it has on minority languages that are rapidly dying.
This is a relatively complex task to understand. You need to understand what the two sides of the argument are. One is positive – English as a global language helps harmony. One is negative – English is killing off other languages.
This introduction identifies the task by naming both sides of the argument: On one level it helps promote co-operation and understanding (the pro) and the negative impact it has on minority languages that are rapidly dying (the con). It also shows that the essay is going to give the writer’s opinion about this issue: I believe that
Skill 2 – rephrase the question in your own words
One thing you should attempt to do is try and rephrase the question in your own words when you are identifying the task. I should emphasise that this does not mean that you have to change all the words from the question.
Many students choose to work part time during university studies. Do you think its a good or a bad idea?
Nowadays, it is quite common for students to combine their studies with paid employment. While there are arguments that can be made against this practice, my belief is that it is a positive development.
This is a brief intro – perhaps more appropriate for a 5 paragraph essay. A short introduction leaves you more words for the content paragraphs. You should practise this type of intro.
The task is to give your opinion about whether students should have jobs. The introduction makes it clear that the essay is going to be about this: my belief is that it is a positive development
The introduction also suggests that the essay is going to discuss both sides of the question. A different introduction could lead into an essay arguing only one side of the case.
Skill 3 – make sure you answer the whole task
One vital skill you need to practise is ensuring you focus on the whole task in the introduction. This is particularly important in double question types. If you fail to address the whole question in the introduction, you may not address the whole task in the essay (big deduction for Task Response) and/or the essay will lack coherence (the intro does not relate to the whole essay).
In the twenty-first century, mobile phones and the internet play an important role in our lives. How can this technology be useful to the elderly? What are the suggestions that you can give to encourage the elderly to use this technology.
While the younger generation rely on the internet and mobile phones in their everyday lives, many older people are unable or unwilling to use this technology. My belief is that free access to these technologies for the elderly would improve their quality of life in a variety of ways. To achieve this, however, governments might also need to provide education on how to use it.
This is a slightly more complex introduction. It is much harder to write quick intros to double questions and you should also practise this type of intro.
The task is both to explain how technology can help the elderly and suggest how they can be encouraged to use it. In my intro I identify both of these: free access to these technologies for the elderly would improve their quality of life in a variety of ways and governments might also need to provide education on how to use it
Skill 4 – explain how you are going to address the task
This is something that you would almost certainly do in an academic essay, but you may or may not do in an IELTS exam essay. The standard language you use here is In this essay I will discuss etc.
Nowadays jobs become more stressful and workers stay longer at work. What are the reasons for this? What can employers do to help employees?
In many professions, not only is the working day now longer than ever before, jobs themselves have become more demanding. In this essay, I discuss some of the economic and social reasons for this and suggest some ways employers can address the issue.
This is a really tricky question: a double double question. There are two things to discuss: stressful jobs and long hours. You also need to look at why this happens now and what employers can do to help. You need to get all this information into the introduction if you are to identify the task properly.
I identify the task by using In this essay, I discuss and suggest. It is a useful approach for more complex questions. If you try and include more detail in your introduction it can get difficult to write.
What you should read next
Find all my key IELTS essay lessons in
There are different ways to write introductions. In this lesson I talk you through some of the basics and also show you links to what other teachers say.
To write a good introduction you first need to understand the question. These lessons might help with that